Our Favorite Things: Holiday Dishes We Love

Dec. 17, 2021


On the left side, an image of jollof rice. On the right side, a close-up of apple-cinnamon cake.
Jollof Rice photo by Charles Haynes. Apple cake photo by Becky Luigart Stayner.

The holidays can be a time for family, friends, traditions - and food! Food is central to celebrating for many of us, and our connections to it often go far beyond physical nourishment. Food can connect us to each other, to our memories, to our cultures. Here, two of our faculty members share their favorite holiday dishes. What are some of yours?

Nita Ocansey, Academic Advisor

My parents were born in Ghana, West Africa. They came to the U.S. for many reasons - overall, to have more and better opportunities. My favorite holiday food is jollof rice, which is a staple food in Ghana. It reminds me of a small piece of my African culture and heritage.

Jollof rice is a traditional West African dish, typically made with long-grain rice, onions, tomatoes, spices, vegetables, and meat (or no meat) in a single pot.

The recipe varies across different regions in Africa, and my mom has her own secret to making it the way she does, which I can't share here. But I found one by Tei Hammond that has a familiar feel.


  • 2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 14 oz diced tomato
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
  • 3 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
  • 2-1/2 cups long grain rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetable
  • 1-1/2 cups water


  1. Add onions and 2 tablespoons of oil to a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and habanero pepper to the blender, and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a separate medium bowl.
  3. Heat the remaining 1/3 cup (80 ml) of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion puree and cook until the water has cooked out and the puree is starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree and add the curry powder, garlic powder, ginger, dried herbs, and crushed bouillon cubes. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stew has reduced by half and is deep red in color.
  6. Add the rice, mixed vegetables, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with foil and a lid. Simmer for another 30 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and the liquid is absorbed.
  7. Enjoy!

Amy A. Drescher, Assistant Professor of Practice

I have been making this cake since I was married, and it became a fun tradition for kids when they were small as a Christmas Eve / Jesus's birthday cake. I made some minor changes to the original recipe (published in Cooking Light, October 1997), since it called for fat free versions margarine and cream cheese popular in the '90s. I also like to mix two types of apples.


  • 1-3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) Earth Balance or vegan butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 oz block of cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups finely chopped peeled apples (1 red, 1-2 Granny Smith)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray spring form pan with oil spray.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix well.
  4. Beat 1-1/2 cups of sugar with vanilla, butter, and cream cheese. Add eggs one at a time.
  5. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and blend until fully mixed.
  6. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Take out 2 tablespoons, and add to the chopped apples.
  7. Fold chopped apples into the cake batter. Pour batter into spring form pan.
  8. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  9. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes, or until the cake pulls from sides of pan.
  10. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove outer part from spring form pan. Refrigerate any leftovers.